The mornings are great – I plan so well,
Always some healthy eggs and avocado,
Lunchtime is good too
I’m always so prepared,
Maybe some salmon or a healthy salad.
But in the evening – it all goes wrong
I tend to completely fall off the wagon
I’m tired, I’m stressed, I’m hungry too
I eat more when I’m preparing my dinner,
Than I’ve eaten all day long
More than I’d ever intended
I go to sleep mad
I go to sleep sad
But with a strong resolve
To start my healthy eating plan again tomorrow.
It is very common for those struggling with their weight to be eating most of their calories in the evening (sometimes very late in the evening). The pattern I very often see in the eating habits of those that come into my clinic is that during the day (whilst clients are busy, at work or otherwise occupied), their resolve is great and they eat relatively healthily. However, once the working day ends and once they get home, they end up eating far more than they ever wanted.
Several studies have demonstrated that those who eat most their calories in the evening are more likely to be overweight or obese. So, what causes this cycle of eating too much in the evening?
1. Being tired or stressed in the evening
When you are tired or stressed, your pre-frontal cortex (the part of your brain that allows you to make conscious decisions about what to eat) slows down and is less effective. The fact that you are no longer able to make conscious/rational decisions about your food choices means that you often feel out of control. Your subconscious mind (i.e. the part of your brain that automatically makes choices for you, without your conscious control – this is the part of your brain that for example, enables you to drive home without thinking about it) then causes you to make poor food choices – it will seek out foods that give you that immediate high or dopamine rush e.g. sugary treats or carbohydrates.
2. Deciding that you will start your diet/healthy eating plan tomorrow
When your resolve is weak in the evening and you have had a busy day – because you want an excuse to eat that sugary treat/over-indulge, you will convince yourself that you are going to start your diet/healthy-eating plan tomorrow. What this actually means however, is that you end up eating 5 sugary treats instead of just 1 – because you have convinced yourself that from tomorrow onwards you will NEVER eat sugary treats ever again. This all or nothing mind-set is very rarely effective in the long-run and often leads to late night binges, all whilst promising to “start your diet tomorrow/on Monday”.
3. Not having prepared meals
If you have had an extremely busy day, often you will miss the hunger cues being sent to you by your body. The result is that by the evening you are STARVING. If you have not planned a meal or pre-cooked some food to eat, when you are really hungry, it can be easy to reach for whatever you can find (which often tends to be something sugary or highly processed). The cause of this is often a big dip in blood sugar levels as a result of eating a very carbohydrate-packed lunch, which cause you to seek out ANYTHING that will bring those sugar levels back up. A way to combat this is to ensure that you eat a fat and protein rich lunch/snack in the afternoon which will leave you satiated until you are able to prepare the healthy dinner you had planned.
4. Eating in front of the TV
So often you will find yourself eating your evening meal whilst also watching the TV. The problem with this however is that studies have shown that when you eat whilst distracted, you are much more likely to eat more food. As you are distracted by the television, you will not be as sensitive to your body’s cues that you are full and have eaten enough. Eating before you sit down to watch the TV can help you to become more mindful about exactly how much you are eating and how much food your body needs.
5. Feeling sad/lonely/fed-up
Whether it is your job, personal life or something else causing you to feel a bit down, feeling sad/lonely/fed-up can often leave you wanting to eat more food when you are alone at home. You may seek out the short-term high you get from eating something tasty as a way to cope with your emotions. You can end up trapped in a bit of a vicious cycle too – because eating too much food will often make you feel guilty and in turn make you feel worse about yourself.
Hypnotherapy (when also combined with mindfulness and psychotherapy) is an extremely useful tool to re-programme your subconscious brain so that it no longer makes poor food choices when the evening comes. If you are interested in finding out more about how The Food Psychology Clinic could help you to improve your relationship with food, please email firstname.lastname@example.org to book in for a free 20 minute phone consultation.